He and Vance had dragged one desk and two chairs inside. A war room. For him and Monica.

Luke waited until Deputy Pope walked out, then it was his turn for the interrogation. He closed the door, very softly. Leaning back against the wood, he got ready to work. “What did Hyde have to say?”

“He said he’s got Samantha cross-referencing murders in the U.S. that fit our pattern.” She pulled out a desk chair and when the wood slid across the tile, a long, painful squeak filled the air.

He paced toward her. “Our pattern? Our pattern is that the perp gets off on his kills. He tortures the victims, gives them their nightmares and—”

“Exactly.” She sat, nice and prim, and opened up her laptop. “He does.”

They hadn’t managed to save her. He’d been so stunned to see Laura gulping down air when they’d dug her out of that hole. Then to see her so pale and still in that hospital bed…

I’ll find you, bastard.

He could still hear the sound of her mother crying.

“The man we’re looking for…” Monica glanced up at him. “And we do know it’s a man, thanks to my call and the deputy’s description…”

Yeah, Vickers had been adamant about the perp being a male. Tall. Thin.

And Monica said the voice she’d heard had been masculine, low, grating, but certainly not female.

It fit. Most serials were males.

“Our guy’s kills are elaborate and designed for optimum fear.” Her nail tapped on the computer. “His murders didn’t just start here in Jasper. He’s killed before. For him, it’s all about the fear. He needs his victims to be afraid. He sets the stage, he plays with them—”

Like he’d started playing with her last night?

“When Samantha runs her screen, she’s not going to be looking for gunshot victims. She’s going to look for fear crimes. Unusual kills. Those that fit our guy’s signature.”

“But the Jenkins death looked like an accident at first. And Laura—hell, if we hadn’t found her grave, we wouldn’t have even known she was one of his victims.” So young, barely twenty-five. She could have just left town. Run off with a lover.

Or been buried alive.

“He’s good,” Monica said. “But Samantha is better. She’ll find one of his kills. It’s only a matter of time.”

And the early kills, if they could find them, would be sloppier. He knew serials improved their craft, such as it was, over time. They learned not to make mistakes and became more careful.

That’s why a lot of would-be serials were caught fast and sent down after only one kill.

But the others… they honed their craft. The more bodies, the harder they became to catch.

“No fingerprints are going to turn up on the notes he sent, and all the prints that were lifted from Laura’s hospital room,” she gave a little shrug, “they’ll all be identified. Our killer is organized.”

Yeah, he’d figured that, too. The “organized” killers always planned every move in advance, and their crime scenes were often meticulous.

“He’s highly intelligent,” Monica continued, “and for him, the crimes aren’t so much about fear, as controlling the fear. Making the victims tremble and beg while he holds all the power.”

He stared down at her.

“Odds are high our killer didn’t have power when he was younger. He was afraid, and it broke him.” Her gaze was on him, but he didn’t think she saw him there.

Luke yanked out his chair. “You think he started killing when he was a kid?”

“It’s definitely possible. But I know something set him off recently. Something made him start killing here, in this town. With these women. A trigger. We just have to find out what’s driving him—then we can find him.”

The sooner, the damn better.

“He knows them. By the time he kills them, he knows them better than any lover. He sees past the skin and into their hearts.” Her voice softened. “He breaks them, and he watches the fear roll over them.”

“Right before he kills them.” Bastard.

“He doesn’t rape them,” Monica said. “But this—the way he kills is still just as intimate. To him, it’s the most intimate he can be with anyone.”

“I’ll start working the victims and see if I can find any link between them.” He’d take the vics any day over the killers.

Monica gave a slow nod. “Okay. Sounds good.”

If he looked hard enough, there would be a link. Victims were rarely as random as people thought.

“Kenton will be down here in a few hours,” she said, her attention back on the computer. “We’ll use him to help question the friends and family.”

“How do you do it?” he asked, because she was slipping away from him.

He’d held her in his arms, come so close to claiming her again. But right then, Monica might as well have been a thousand miles away.

Her fingers hesitated over the keys. “Do what?”

“Get into their heads so well.” Because that’s where she was heading. Right into the killer’s mind. “It’s so easy for you. Like breathing.”

“Yes, it is.” She didn’t look at him.

“How?” Everybody had always wanted to know.

“I become the killer.” Still not looking at him, but there was something in her voice. A tension.

Almost sounded like fear. Almost.

“If you become them, then profiling…” She gave a little shrug. “It gets easier.”

Didn’t sound easy. The last thing he ever wanted to become was a f**ked-up killer.

She cleared her throat. “I’ve got a lot to do, okay? Are you going to finish interviewing the hospital staff and the family?”

Ah, dismissed. Right. “Yeah, yeah, I am.”

That wall she’d surrounded herself with really pissed him off. He rose and sauntered around the old desk. She would see him. He skimmed his fingers down her cheek and Monica took a quick breath. But those eyes didn’t meet his.


His muscles clenched. The way she said his name. Damn. “We’re working the case. We’re catching this ass**le.” He had to say it because she needed to know what was coming. “But you and me, this thing between us… we’re finishing it, too.”

Finally, her bright gaze met his. “You don’t really know what you’re getting into.” A pause. “You can’t handle me, Dante.”

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